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Race Matters: Don Lemon’s Open Letter to Russell Simmons

CNN’s Don Lemon talks about his open letter to Russell Simmons regarding race.

Below is a transcript of a letter Russell Simmons wrote in response to comments Don Lemon made regarding what black youth can do to change the quality of their experience in America. The video of Lemon’s earlier comments is also embedded below.

“Dear Don,

I got a chance to see what you said over the weekend about black America. At first I thought it was Fox News, but then I remembered you’re a CNN dude. I have nothing against Fox News, as Roger Ailes is my man, but the gospel you were preaching sounded like O’Reilly and Hannity were pulling your strings. Thank goodness my political director, Michael Skolnik, was on the show to stand up for African-Americans, because conservatives love when we blame ourselves for the conditions that have destroyed the fabric of the black community. I respect your courage on many other issues, but I can’t accept that you would single out black teenagers as the cause of their own demise because they don’t speak the King’s English or wear belts around their waistbands.

Hip-hop language and clothing styles are expressions of frustration with the status quo. Young people sagging their pants today is no different than young people rockin’ afros, dashikis or platform shoes in the ’60s and ’70s. And many of those rebellious youth grew up to be quite successful… bell bottom-wearing, pot-smoking, Barry Obama became the President of these United States of America and a long-hair, anti-war activist named John Kerry became Secretary of State defending our country in more creative ways than just using violence. They were knee-deep in a rebellious culture, and did anything but integrate into a world that they saw is filled with problems that needed fixing, filled with challenges, or in their mind, with problems that they could fix. And now they are fixing them.

When this country closes 50 schools in black communities and continues to build more prisons, I know that young people see through the institutionalized bullshit that is laid out in front of them every single day of their lives. The lucky ones, like you and me, owe a real explanation of the problems in our community to the ones who are still living in struggle, not some old, conservative talking points left in the garbage from Mitt Romney’s campaign. I understand personal responsibility far too well, but you can’t ask them to pull up their pants and then stand idle as they fear getting shot in the heart by wannabe cops while walking home to watch basketball games.

If you want to tell the rest of America this weekend when you go back on CNN how we fix black America, tell them to re-start the “War on Poverty.” Tell them to end the failed “War on Drugs” that has cost this nation over one trillion dollars and unjustly incarcerated a generation of black men. Tell them to support the President’s plan for universal Pre-K, so no child enters elementary school having to play catch up with the other children who are fortunate enough to go to pre-school. Tell them make college affordable and obtainable for young students who come from low-income families. Tell them that the right to a healthy life should be universal and not just for the fortunate few. And lastly, tell them that young black men and women don’t just need “role models” or “mentors,” they need “sponsors” who are willing to offer them a job.

I want the black kids to grow up and be like you. I want them to know that their imagination is god inside of them and I want all kids, but especially black kids, to have the freedom to dream as well to create their own language. After all, without their jazz, blues, rock n’ roll and now their hip-hop, America wouldn’t even have a language of its own, much less a culture.”

What people are saying

18 thoughts on “Race Matters: Don Lemon’s Open Letter to Russell Simmons

  1. Jonathan B. Smith says:

    Don Lemon was pretty much on point with everythng he said in each instance. While I have some disagreement with many of his views on society and culture, I agree with him here.

  2. NomdeNet Proctor says:

    Agreed, Jonathan Smith; though the point with SAGGIN spelled backwards was lost on me.

  3. Peter Horan says:

    he was pointing out that sagging (or "saggin") is doesn't have its origins in some healthy and creative expression of black culture, but out of a criminal/prison culture.. made sense to me, as Simmons' comparison of sagging to the other cultural phenomenon was a faulty comparison.

  4. Both men made some valid points but I don't agree 100% with either. Saggin has no positive significance at all so to compare it to afros and dashikis is an inaccurate comparison. While going to college or even completing high school seems like a no brainer some people are looking at their day to day lives. When I look at I need to find a "job" to feed myself and my younger sibling instead of going to a school where very few teachers care about me or reinforce the attitude that I am worthless why bother? It is hard for these kids to understand the long term when the short term is so depressing and bleek. In other words I have to think about how to get food for now and I will think about tomorrow when it gets here! How do you expect anything more from someone who hasn't seen what it is like to have an education and a career. When all you have ever seen are people getting by on government subsidies.This seems normal to you and it is a natural progression unless someone teaches you different. You shouldn't just expect someone to want something if they have never had a taste for it. Just like when a bear is killed once it has had human flesh because now it will crave it. Can't miss what you never had.The question is how to break the chain? Most "well to do black folks" won't go near the hood (unless it's Christmas to had out toys) so are these kids ever to get a taste of the American dream. Out of sight out of mind right? We all have a stake in this and we could point fingers all day, hold a rally , preach on the corner about it and still it would be the same shit just a different day people blaming each other for this fungus on "our" community. There are so many things that need to happen there just isn't a silver bullet for the issue but we do need to start because I feel that the African American community is taking a nose dive!

  5. Shecky Shabazz says:

    black youth do need help and better mentors, but last time I checked black youth ain't the only one sagging or listening to hip hop, or speak UN-proper English. in this country no matter how you carry yourself as a black person, you still maybe treated poorly and or disrespected. that's just the way it is. and I think these kids see money ass putting them on a more even playing field. and if you look in the hoods, will who got the money? thugs, bangers, dboys, or on screen the rappers( that's who they feel they can relate to). they just trying to make it out.

  6. So, is hip-hop the problem? Well, it may not be the lone reason, but for the most part it is definitely not the solution! Question how long must one live in the US to become an American? How many generations? Smokey Robertson asked that question a few years ago and I honestly believe that he never got an answer. No there is nothing wrong with Africa! In fact Africa is the root of all Nations! But none of the other folks, nations or people is running around calling themselves African descent. I believe like Smokey, in order to move beyond the stigmas and road blocks place upon Black people, we the Black People need to forget the past, reach for the future! Used your right to vote! Take part in your communities! You become your child’s hero, by taking part in your child wellbeing and showing interest in his or her activities!

  7. Sharon Sims says:

    It seems as if the phenomenon of poverty, hatred, all the ills of society is something new to both these guys. I agree on many of the accounts they both speak of. But these ills is nothing new to our community. As a young woman, I was faced with & saw these same problems. I chose not to rebel, not to harm, not to find blame. I chose education. We never can get past our own experiences to see there is another way. It may not bring in the money, the prestige, the power but there is another way. Russell Simmons lifestyle is what they see & want. They don't see what his struggle was like on his way to the top. If they did, would they buy his records, his clothes, etc. No he will only show what he has become because this is what the youngsters will pay attention to. As for Don Lemon, your success is worthy of praise. But the youngsters will not know of your struggle to the top either. They only see the polished side that people now see. So how do we show the youngsters on the corner, in front of the liquor store, terrorizing the parks that there is a better way to do things, to become a better person, that prestige & honor comes from within. We all had to go through 9 months of development to become that person born squealing & pushing out the womb. Our development doesn't end with birth as it is a life long endeavor. I agree, the youngsters need to pull up their pants. Decide if your parent(s) is not an example to follow, look at other positive examples in the community, the grocery store owner. Believe or not the local policeman, fireman. The person who owns the cleaners, etc. There are examples. Get past the thought of the negatives you have dreamed up. Get past the wrongs done. Get into your mind there is always a better way than drugs, gangs, stealing, lying, unprotected sex, fighting, death.

  8. Don, I appreciate your honestly it takes courage and I hope you will continue to seek like-minded opinions from our educated Black peoples, speak your mind my Black Brother, because our people need to hear it. Sad however, having ears does not mean that they will hear, but it needs to be uttered!

  9. Let's look at the economics of these communities that have the most violence. Why is that not discussed more often?

  10. Joel L Burks says:

    I would like for Mr Lemon to invite some young african american women and men to be on his show and let them comment on what they hear him saying.

  11. Exactly Shecky, look at the 8,000 African American teachers with most Masters and PHD's in Chicago who were fired from jobs in the communities they live to give jobs to young White folks because of the poor economy. These people will work for no more than 4 years, get their loans paid off while using our children and mis-educating them to get paid. That's Black life in America. Even if they have an education, that means very little.

  12. Sharon Sims says:

    Joel L Burks good idea.

  13. many of the people wants it now, the success , but truth is preparing for the success! their maybe a few avenues to their goals if we just have some! some folks really don't have goals, some do have em and will get their by hook or by crook!!! I get to reach thousands and for some it's easy to direct to a great way to get what they want in a crime free way!!! for others hey the environment is where it's at for them! they not going to accept other ways cause they have formed a identity and rep to live up to!!! can't give up the parents and elders of our communities! everyone don't get it at the same time!!! hopefully they get what needed in time before they get killed or get put away for life!!! ma. steve

  14. we are taught self hate all of the time. the things we see on tv , church, music, school and so on we have to start there to begin to fix some of these problems.

  15. Very nice points, in addition: we need to stop the use of negative words/terms and actions toward our love ones within our homes! Kids, spouses who are always or occasionally get banged upside the head with negativities from within often seek support elsewhere, nine out of ten times that outside support is just as harmful as the inside negative. Society step in, a good kid is now wearing an orange jumpsuit and loss forever. Fathers, this is our fault!

  16. Samuel Harris says:

    I think most if not all of you are missing the point. Personally, I'm not that overwhelmed with CNN although it stays on at least 1 of my tv's on a daily basis. Don Lemon is trying to KEEP his job, and not wind up like so many others Like Hernandez, T.J. Holmes and Tony Harris….BOTTOM LINE.

  17. Young black men sagging is cultural? But if a woman is showing her underwear then she's a slut asking for it right?

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